Usually when your job requires you spend the night in…
Date 26 August
Place Buñol, Spain
Style Paint the town red
Setting Fruit-soaked Mediterranean square
You say tomato, I say ouch! It began as a food fight in 1945, now La Tomatina is a brilliant example of an entire town and about 20,000 visitors gone temporarily insane. The whole of Buñol parties the night before, in bars and out on the streets. If you get to the main square for 9am, you can help yourself to a delicious spread of wine and snacks, laid on to sustain those who have been up all night. The mixture of elated exhaustion and pre-fight excitement makes for quite an atmosphere – a weekday morning unlike any other.
IN THE KNOW
Head count Up to 30,000 people visit Buñol and neighbouring towns for the festival.
Packing tips Most people wear white, which makes the spectacle even more dramatic, but don’t bring anything you’ll ever want to wear again – it’ll be a miracle if you get the stains out. (There are more than 500 temporary showers put up around the city for the event, so you will be able to wash some of the slush off immediately.) Many participants choose to wear safety goggles, but they can actually make you more of a target.
Bar chat Some 125,000 kilos of tomatoes are kindly provided by the local government for La Tomatina – all very ripe and squishy and deposited by trucks in the streets.
DOS & DON’TS
• There is always concern here about drunken participants hurling dangerous objects, and police will confiscate any glass containers.
• Don’t tear T-shirts. Some more rowdy participants have taken to ripping and throwing these at the end of the food fight, but this is frowned upon by police and locals.
• If you love paella (and this is the region to visit if you do) then go along to the paella cook-off the night before the fight.
• Take a change of clothes – and keep them safe in a plastic bag! There’s a public shower in Buñol, or the Buñol river nearby. Alternatively, do as the locals do and allow the town shopkeepers to hose you down.
NEED TO KNOW
Getting there Buñol is approximately 40 kilometres from Valencia (which is served frequently by Ryanair and British Airways, among others), and it’s well connected to Madrid and Barcelona by rail and road. Most visitors stay in Valencia and get the train or bus in for La Tomatina. Trains leave Valencia at eight minutes past the hour.
Children Lots of older kids join in, but the mayhem is a bit much for the younger ones.
Parking Parking spaces are difficult to come by in the centre of Buñol – it’s much easier to get the train into town. Watch out for anyone on board wielding a bag of tomatoes and a naughty smile, though: pre-fights are common.
Food & drink For what is considered the best paella in the world, visit the Restaurante Vinatea in the Hotel Astoria Palace on Plaza Rodrigo Botet (+34 (0)96 398 10 00). For cutting-edge gourmet cuisine (maybe foie gras with peaches, or a salad of salmon, shrimp, avocado, potatoes and mushrooms), try Restaurante Sergio Alarco on 23 Calle Marino Blas de Lezo (+34 (0)96 355 22 80).
Sleep Though locals in Buñol do rent out rooms in private houses, we’d recommend staying in nearby Valencia. Hospes Palau de la Mar (pictured above) is central and palatial (literally – it’s a 19th-century stately residence).
If you’re flying into Madrid, stay overnight at the refined Casa de Madrid. This aristocratic and artistic bolthole boasts a plum(-tomato) location in the city’s centre and is housed within an 18th-century building. Alternatively, there’s the parkside Palacio del Retiro, an understated and elegant retreat, just a short stroll from Madrid’s Golden Triangle of museums.
We’re keeping a beady eye on the international event calendar, so watch this space every month for more insider info on inspiring shenanigans around the world.